Relationships, Part 57: When Illness Take Over: Feed the Person, Starve the Illness

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I never could keep my Grandmother’s advice straight. It is starve a cold and feed a fever, or feed a cold and starve a fever?

It’s just as well that I can’t remember it right; modern medicine discredits the practice of withholding nourishment from any sick person, regardless of whether they have a cold or a fever. Therefore, I propose that we modify the old saying to something that actually makes sense.

Feed the person and starve the illness.

We’ve been talking about how illness can take over a person so that there is little of him left that is unaffected. When the illness is done with the person, when he is mostly overcome, then the illness takes over the relationship. Even the partner who is not ill herself can begin to act in ways against her own self interest. She will nourish the illness and starve the people in it.
You know what he’s like when he drinks too much, so why do you buy beer for him? She gets paranoid when you keep secrets from her and starts to imagine all kinds of wild things, so why do you withhold information? His doctor has told him that, at this point it’s detrimental to his recovery from back surgery for him to lay in bed all day, so why do you bring him things so he doesn’t have to get up? She’s been feeling sorry for herself ever since she lost her legs in that accident. She doesn’t believe she can do anything; so why do you push her wheelchair?

You do it because the illness talked you into it, even though it’s counter to the best interests of both you and your partner.

There are many more examples of how people feed the illness. In my last post we talked about distinguishing your partner from the illness. Now is the time to put that discernment to work. What are the things you do that serve the illness and dis-serve your partner? Be honest. Be ruthless. Get real.

This doesn’t mean that you stop doing all nice things for your partner. Feed the person. Identify those actions that make her stronger, that promote your bond. Continue to do those, or resume them if you have stopped.

Let there be no question about it, starving the illness is a brave thing to do. It won’t seem like you get any credit for doing it from your partner. He, after all, has already been overcome by the illness. He’s going to say he feels betrayed when you call 911 when he is suicidal. No one likes it when the guys in the white coats come for them, but it’s really his illness talking. When he’s in his right, true mind, he’s going to be glad that you made that call.

The fact that you have to take action against the illness is what makes the next step necessary. Get help. At times like these, you’re going to need support to do the right thing.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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